With the first of July already passed, we are in the time period each year during which Oregon is most at risk for wildfires! We primarily see these fires in the valley in July through September with fires beginning to taper off in October. That’s why our backyard burn seasons are set up the way they are – it’s meant to allow people to burn when there is less of a risk for wildfires. The season is also reflected in things like land usage, where certain forested areas have various restrictions during fire season to reduce the risk of a human-caused wildfire. With this in mind, we’re going to devote the entire month of July’s Chief’s Safety Shorts specifically to wildfire safety tips!
Wildfires can be incredibly scary, confusing, and chaotic. It’s best to put together your evacuation plan before you need it! Today we’re going to focus on how to prepare your family for evacuation.
What you can do to prepare your family depends on your evacuation order. These orders are put in place to help prevent you and your family from being caught in the fire and the smoke. Evacuation levels are based on threat level, road congestion, and other factors. If the threat to your home is great enough, you will be told you need to leave immediately (a level 3 evacuation). In that case, grab your children and pets and go. Please. Listen to your evacuation orders. Get to somewhere safe. The only time we recommend going against orders is when you make the decision to evacuate to a safe location earlier than is required. Staying will not just endanger you and your loved one’s lives, it will endanger the firefighters. Staying means that they now have to protect not only themselves and the structures but you too. And that makes their job harder and more dangerous. So, please, as we say with any house fire, get out and stay out!
Before a wildfire breaks out in your area, sit your family down and discuss what your plans are in case of a wildfire. Cal Fire has a great list of resources for talking with children, the elderly, and the disabled about preparing for wildfires. Pick a location that you all know how to find that should be outside of evacuation zone (depending on the size and location of any actual fires, you might need to revise this for individual incidents – make sure you make that change before you need to evacuate!). By having everyone meet at a single location whether they are home during the evacuation order or not, allows you to figure out if everyone has evacuated with a bit more ease during a time when things like phone,cell, and internet service might be spotty. Figure out escape routes from your home, work, etc., and from your community. You should have several different escape routes in case one or more become blocked during an emergency. Remember to include pets and livestock in your evacuation plans! How will they get out? When? What do you need to get them safely out? Next week, we’ll talk about how to get your pets and livestock ready for an evacuation. Contact a family member or friend who is out of your area to see if they can act as your single point of contact during an emergency if your family becomes separated and is unable to get to the designated location. Make sure everyone has their contact information. Show everyone where the electric, water, and gas main shut-offs are and how to safely turn them off. Place a good pair of shoes and a working flashlight next to everyone’s bed to help make night evacuations easier. Kids’ and adults’ shoes should be something they can walk or hike in. Adults’ shoes should also be something they can work in if necessary.
Put together an emergency supply kit for each person and pet in your household – also think about anyone else you might be responsible for who doesn’t live with you, such as elderly parents, or making an extra for each car in case you are unable to go home before evacuating. The American Red Cross provides an excellent checklist for putting together a kit. A simple backpack works really well to gather all the necessary supplies in. Food and water in a chest on wheels, rolling backpack or luggage, etc. works well also so long as you remember to keep it light enough for your to lift into your car! How about making that blanket they recommend a fire blanket? Additionally, add a list of emergency contact numbers in each, including your single point of contact, and the escape routes and meeting location you decided on. Make sure everyone in the family knows where these kits are and what they are for. If kids are home alone and have to be evacuated by law enforcement, a neighbor, etc., they will be able to grab these bags and have what they need to contact you.
If you get an evacuation order, take a moment to read over it and understand what level of evacuation it is. Then review your plans for evacuation – escape routes, meeting location, single point of contact and other emergency numbers. If there is time, dress to protect yourself against the heat and embers. Wear cotton or wool, 100% cotton is preferable. Wear long sleeves, long pants, hat, and gloves to reduce your amount of exposed skin. Also wear a dry bandana, handkerchief, etc. over your nose and mouth to help protect your face. Your shoes should be a good, sturdy pair that you can walk in if necessary. Protect your eyes with goggles. Load up your children, pets, and emergency kits and then GO!
When evacuating without an emergency supply kit already prepared, remember the 6 P’s! 1. People and Pets; 2. Prescriptions and eyeglasses; 3. Papers, phone numbers, and important documents; 4. “Plastic” (credit cards, ATM cards) and cash; 5. Pictures and irreplaceable memorabilia (only if there is time); and 6. Personal computer hard drive and disks (only if there is time). Keep children and pets inside so they don’t wander your property – you want to be able to find them in a moment’s notice. Take pets out on a leash to do their business. Place papers, phone numbers, and important documents, like insurance paperwork and birth certificates in a single box or bag along with pictures, flash drives, etc. If you receive a grab and go evacuation order, you do not have time to do anything other than grab your family, including pets, and go. If you have these in a bag sitting next to the door, you can literally grab it on the way out as you grab your keys. No extra time needed.
Preparing for an evacuation before it is needed can make the process easier and safer for everyone. Always follow your evacuation orders, if you need to grab and go, then just grab and go! There is no time for preparations at that point! The most important thing is for you and your family, including your furry family members to make it out alive!
Check back next Tuesday when we’ll take a more in-depth look at how to prepare your furry family members for evacuation!